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Litquake Rumbles Through Town

SF's Homegrown Festival Leaves Little Time to Rest

A recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Bay Area residents spend more money on books than residents of any other region in America - twice the national average. It may be no surprise that we read a lot here, but it's less well known that we write a lot, too. The Bay Area is home to over 300 presses and has some of the best book distributors in America.

In the midst of all this reading and writing, it's only fitting that the Bay Area have its very own celebration to cater to Bay Area readers and honor Bay Area writers. The celebration, Litquake, is now in its third year and growing fast. Appropriate for such a big literary scene squeezed into a relatively small area, Litquake bursts at the seams with activity spread over four venues. Last year's festival featured over 60 authors and drew some 2,000 fans; this year more than 100 authors are scheduled to read, speak, and participate over the span of four days.

Festivities officially begin with a panel discussion on September 18th and author readings on the 19th, but Litquake kicks into overdrive on Saturday the 20th with two full days of readings, book sales, speakers, and high-minded chaos at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens.

It's like speed-dating for lit freaks: readings are ten minutes apiece, so make sure you know what time your favorite author is scheduled. But keep an open mind and open ears. According to Litquake's Gayle LeDoux, "Some people attend expecting the well-known authors, and then a relatively unknown writer will take the stage and blow them away."

Last year Dave Eggers abruptly yielded much of his stage time to 17-year-old poet Yalie Kamara, one of several surprises among the many ad-libs, celebrity spottings, and after-hours party maneuvers that gave the festival a crackle of spontaneity.

Hoping to attract more of the same, festival organizers have titled this year's special events "Writers Behaving Badly," "Loudmouths of Lit," and "Tenderloin Tremblor," the latter a pint-fueled Saturday night reading at the Edinburgh Castle headlined by Scottish bad boy Irvine Welsh. (Double-check the website for the most current listings.)

Testament to its growing popularity, Litquake has sprouted a Summer Series offshoot, which has expanded author exposure, brought readings to new venues, and touched on some of the edgier segments of the Bay Area writing community. For example, the July 12th "Writing Behind Bars" featured authors with a prison connection, including ex-bank robber Joe Loya, current inmates Marilyn Buck and Michael Wayne Hunter, and former Alcatraz inmate Morton Sobell.

The added attention helps draw donations and crowds to the main event, which is important because Litquake is a non-profit venture run by volunteers. (To help out, please e-mail [email protected].)

In a place that considers itself one of the most wired places on Earth, it's good to know there's still room to unplug and celebrate books, and that crowds of people will be eager to join the celebration.

Full Litquake 2003 Schedule:

Creative Demons: Writers Behaving Badly
Thursday, September 18th
Litquake's opening night panel discussion with Thomas Sanchez, Kim Addonizio, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, and Patrick Hughes,moderated by Kevin Smokler.
Reception 6:30pm, discussion 7:30pm.
Free to library members, $5 nonmembers.
Mechanics' Institute Library
57 Post Street, San Francisco

Loudmouths of Lit
Friday, September 19th
Raucous readings from Alan Black, Justin Chin, Daphne Gottlieb, Beth Lisick, Regina Louise, and Tim'm T. West.
7 pm
Admission $5-$10 sliding scale, proceeds benefit Litquake.
Make-Out Room
3225 22nd Street, San Francisco

Off the Richter Scale
Saturday, September 20th & Sunday, September 21st
Ten-minute readings from 30 Bay Area authors.
11 am - 6 pm
Yerba Buena Outdoor Gardens
Mission Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, San Francisco

Tenderloin Tremblor
Saturday, September 20th
Readings from the gritty streets, with JT LeRoy, Peter Plate, Kevin Smokler, Michelle Tea, Irvine Welsh.
9 pm
Admission $5-$10 sliding scale, proceeds benefit Litquake.
Edinburgh Castle
950 Geary, San Francisco